Sunday, March 31, 2013

Candy Free Easter Baskets!

I am not a huge promoter of holiday candy. I like baking around Christmas, I like Thanksgiving pies. What I dread is the endless bucket of SweetTarts, Jolly Ranchers, Skittles packages, etc., that come home by the handful around the holidays. I throw them all in a bucket and try to ration them out to my children--who have proven to me many, many times just how wild a little sugar will make them. My littlest literally starts spinning around after a little sugar rush. In a month I usually end up tossing a lot of the candy. I am actually tossing the Valentine candy this week. I don't think it will be missed in the excitement of Easter.

I am not all bah-humbug, though. I did take them to our church Easter egg hunt today. I will have more eggs for them to hunt tomorrow--some with actual candy in them! Those without candy are usually stuffed with animal crackers, Goldfish crackers, pretzels, Cheerios, or other items with a little less sugar.

Our budget is tight this year. I did not really want to spend a lot of money on candy that would get tossed in a month or on trinkets that will break easily. I don't have a ton to spend on big ticket items. I thought it through and decided to buy stuff on my grocery list (or a near future grocery list) and make them a bit more festive and fun than usual. That way I am buying items I will need anyway and will get used.

Here they are followed by a list of what is inside. There are a few little indulgences in there. The whole basket contains only one sugar-y item which clocks in at 4 grams of sugar per serving.

I recycled our Easter baskets from a previous year.

Easter themed Goldfish crackers: Since they got them in their baskets this year I didn't put them in the eggs.
Bunny-shaped Macaroni and Cheese: Total splurge! My kids usually get the store brand or homemade.
Toothbrush and toothpaste: To fight decay from the candy they do get!
Book: From the under $4 price range
Got Milk milk straws: My friend mentioned to me that she had picked these up for her son's basket and I thought they were a great idea! They are straws filled with a little flavoring (this is my sugary treat for them) that are used to drink milk. They flavor the milk as you drink. I figure the milk drinking balances the sugar out a bit.

Flip-flops: Spring is upon us and flip-flops are a summer necessity around here.
Squeezable applesauce: My kids love this stuff but it is not on our normal list. They are usually stuck with the jarred kind.
Mr. Bubble foam soap: They needed bath soap anyway.
8-Pack of new crayons: My oldest has realized the wonderfulness of a fresh pack of crayons complete with perfectly pointed tips. Ahhh, a boy after my own heart!

Total cost: About $23 each. Yes, that is a bit more than I would have spent filling their baskets with dollar-store treasures, but now I don't have to buy all these necessities on top of that. The crayons, milk straws, and books were the three items that wouldn't have been purchased at all. Those together were $6.50. I guess you could look at it from that perspective that the baskets were only $6.50 on top of our normal spending.

Final verdict: When I list out loud what I got them (toothbrush, soap, shoes) it sounds kind of lame. One day my kids may look back and think this was a lame basket, but I think its actually pretty great. I think they will love it!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pin 195: Fun Fur Easter Wreath

Original pin:
P3091852 copy
The pin I had on my pinboard has an incorrect link but I liked this wreath so much I found what appears to be the original source and this is the link complete with a tutorial showing simply how easy this is:

I pinned this a long time ago but had kept it in the back of my mind waiting for spring. After cleaning up the debris from Valentine's day, my mind went to this project. I sought out this yarn while at my favorite yarn store but was immediately turned off when I found it was $7.99 a skein. Because my original pin didn't have the correct source, I wasn't sure how many skeins I would need, but I was sure it would be at least three or four. This yarn is so skinny! Mission aborted!

I came home and started researching the original link. Turns out her wreath was only 8 inches but she only used one skein! Honestly, I was skeptical about this one. The next week, while at a different craft store I decided to check out their fun fur prices--just in case. I was pleasantly surprised to find it $2.99 a skein--and I had a coupon!! This project was back on.

I did want a larger wreath, so I purchased a 14" wreath. I bought a straw one because it was half the price of the foam. I left it in the plastic packaging to keep it neat. I also bought 2 skeins of the yarn. I started working on it that day. The more and more I wrapped, I just kept thinking, "There is no way that two skeins will be enough. NO way." I've been wrong before, and apparently I was wrong again. One skein covered almost 2/3 of the wreath!

See how small one skein is!! I can't believe it covered this much wreath.
Once I finished the first one and saw how much it covered, I squished it all in a little tighter before starting the second skein.

I had no trouble with the pins inserting or staying put in the straw wreath. Turned out to be a good swap. I used the entire roll of flower trim and then used scrap book paper, double sided tape, and a toothpick to make my little flag. I made it reversible and included a second phrase.

I just cut a long strip of white cardstock and folded it in half. I put a toothpick at the fold and secured it all with a strip of double sided tape.

I didn't think this would be a good outdoor wreath--especially with spring weather, so I hung it on the inside of the back door using a 3M release hook. I think it is super cute, and my kids like "petting" it. Lu-boy keeps asking if it is real grass.

Total cost: Okay, so overall it wasn't super cheap because I had to buy everything! Pink-head pins, ribbons, trim, wreath form, fun fur yarn. I spent about $22. But I love it so much I don't even care! And I can justify the bargain of the yarn not being $7.99 and using a coupon!

Total time: 2 1/2 hours

Final verdict: I think it is very spring-y. It was ridiculously easy. Once I realized that one skein really would cover an 8 inch wreath I started thinking about who I could make one for. I love it!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pin 194: Root Beer Crock Pot Roast

Original pin:

Last week while I was home with sick kiddos I needed an easy, no fuss dinner. Anything in the slow cooker sounded awesome.  My friend recommended this pin of Root Beer Crockpot Roast to me last week.  I popped this in the crock pot around noon and flipped it on. I did have some errands to run and kids to shuffle so we went on about our day.

It was kind of pretty with all the root beer fizz bubbling up around it. Just smelling the root beer made me thirsty!

So I took those really awesome "before" pictures, and then life happened. I'll spare you all the gruesome details, but this pin will have to be reviewed by the boys who where actually at the house for dinner. While I was sneaking cheese-its in the emergency room with a sick child, the healthy ones were at home eating every last bite of this. Every. Last. Bite.

Not only do I have no after photos for you, but I didn't even get a taste! I'm glad they enjoyed it, and by the time we did get home, I wasn't much hungry any more. Their review will have to suffice. Their official statement: "Yeah, it was real good."

Total cost: $10 for a medium roast and a couple root beers

Total time: Prep was done in minutes. I actually cheated a little and just rubbed some Lawry's seasoned salt on the roast. It cooked for about 7 hours.

Final verdict: Since it is completely gone, I am going to interpret that it was delicious. It got two thumbs up from my friend as well. Sometimes you can't beat the convenience of the slow cooker. Otherwise those boys would have been eating cracker crumbs and string cheese for dinner. I guess I'm going to have to try this one again for myself! And maybe make a few potatoes and vegetables to go along side. (I'm not really sure what those boys ate with it. . . possibly nothing. That might give a little insight into why they ate so much.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pin 193: Amigurumi Crochet Giraffe

Original pin:

I just spent a recent ten days nursing sick children back to health. Confined to the house, I had to find a creative outlet that did not require me to drag any child with unpredictable behavior and unpredictable health out in public to pick up supplies. My little bird saw me flipping through my pinboards and picked this out for himself. While I still consider myself fairly new to crochet, I am really new to amigurumi. This is really only my second amigurumi project.

I was not interested in changing my yarn color quite that often (nor did I have all those colors on hand). I decided to just get started using what I already had in my stash and see where it takes me.

A while back, a certain craft store was running a special on 100% cotton skeins for $1 and I had picked up 10 or so with no real project in mind. I also did not have a small enough hook as called for in the project, so I just used the size recommended for the yarn I used. I ended up using two full skeins of the 100% cotton and then a leftover scrap from another project.

The original author mentions that a stitch difference here or there shouldn't make a difference and that she, too, is guilty of dropped stitches. I pretty much took this as permission to not count stitches too closely or bother ripping out mistakes. So some parts were a teensy lopsided, but it just adds charm. I worked on an off this for a week while the little bird stood close watch. He loves "giraffe-eeeeeeees" and already has a pretty tight attachment to two.

The pattern is simple and with the creative mistake license granted, it was just one of those projects that you fix and alter as you go along based on your experience with previous projects. (And as I stated before, this is only my second of this type, it didn't need just a whole lot of experience because it was not complicated).

So, in summary, I didn't use the right yarn, the right hook, follow the pattern too closely, or fix mistakes. Did I really even end up with the same project? Can I really judge this pin??

It is a giraffe, after all. My neck seems shorter, but I just kept making it longer until I ran out of that color of yarn. My arms and legs look fatter, but that could be stitch gauge (due to my larger yarn & hook) or because I used more stuffing. I think it looks pretty good for my second project. But really, the only judge who matters is this guy. Here is what he thinks of his new giraffe-eeeeeee.
Total cost: Zero out of pocket. Otherwise, $2 for the two cotton skeins I bought months ago plus scrap yarn and leftover stuffing from another project.

Total time: I worked off and on for seven days to finish this up. I did have a little extra time on my hands being stuck at home with the sickys.

Final verdict: Not quite like the original, but it was relatively frustration-free and the little guy loves it with all his heart. That makes it priceless!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pin 192: Pioneer Woman Bread

Original pin:
Pinned Image

I was making some homemade tomato rice soup tonight for a couple of hungry boys and thought this bread from the Pioneer Woman would complement it nicely. As you may already know, I am a little obsessed with bread and bread making. I made a couple of loaves of my favorite bread last week and had stashed the leftovers in the freezer. (By the way, my current favorite bread recipe is a tweaked version of the one I featured in Pin 144. It was good in the original recipe, but I changed a few things and my family is obsessed with it now. We eat this bread at least once a week, if not more often.) 

I cut back on the butter called for in the original recipe because I was using a rather small loaf--probably the perfect size for a footlong sandwich.
I used only 1/2 stick per loaf of butter but made sure it was adequately covered. It doesn't look like it in this picture because some of the butter was already melting. I had thawed the bread out in the oven while the rice and soup were cooking so the inside was already a little warm. I guarantee you, there was liberal amounts of butter spreading going on.
I couldn't help but think, "Bread spreaders spread butter on bread. . .  that bed spreader better watch out how he's spreading or that bread spreader's sure going to butter his bedding." Happy Birthday Dr Seuss!

And into the oven it went. Waiting was the hard part. The Pioneer Woman said I must watch it every second once the broiler was on so I was a little tense that I would miss this perfect cooking time and my precious bread would be burned and wasted.
A little peek under the broiler
Approximately 7 minutes under the broiler gave me this deliciousness:
I did have Pioneer Woman's pictures handy to refer to when it came time to pull it out (or not pull it out). I could barely wait to cut off a piece and try it. It did not disappoint, it was tasty. Browned butter was a popular ingredient in one of my cooking magazines a while back, and this (not too surprisingly) tasted like browned butter--which is a good thing!  I love this bread plain, I love butter, what is not to love about this? It was a simple and quick alternative to plain bread. The toasting gave it a little stability which was absolutely perfect for scooping up my chunky tomato rice soup. The soft inside of the bread was still able to sop up the liquid part of the soup as well. I'm not going to admit to exactly how much I ate because then I'll have to deal with the reality of how much butter was consumed.

Total cost: $0--I always have butter on hand and the bread was in the freezer

Total time: 5 minutes prep, 12 minutes cooking.

Final verdict: Delicious! I will totally make this again. I could also see myself adding some flavors to it, maybe some garlic, rosemary, thyme. Although it is tasty enough on its own as well.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pin 191: Inside-out Ponytail

Original pin:
Pinned Image

This is posted on a wedding site as "big day" hair, but seems really simple and easy. I liked the style and am always looking for a ponytail alternative. This seemed totally doable.

On a scale of 1-5 where 1 = I can make a straight part and 5 = I have 7 different hair styling irons and can use them all perfectly with professional results, I would rate myself at a 3. I can pull off a decent do when I try. This one is uncomplicated, although I have been about 50/50 with the Pinterest inspired hair. I figured I had a shot.

I was wrong. I tried it three, maybe four times and here are my results:
 Classy, right? Pulling my hair through as described in the tutorial was really a mess. My hair may really be too long for this style as well. By the time I had it pulled through enough to get the ends towards the base of the ponytail, it was so loopy and floppy that it just fell over everywhere. If I didn't pull it through enough then I had a lot of ends to work with trying to pin up and around.

Total cost: $0

Total time: 20 minutes

Final verdict: Couldn't make it happen. My hair is really soft and it took a lot of hairspray to even get the sloppy volume in the picture. I think my hair may be too long, although in the tutorial, it looks like the model has longer hair than mine. I may play around with it more in the future, because I do think it is a chic look, but it did not work out for me that day.

So that was the post I had prepared. . .

As I finished the post and got ready to publish, I glanced back over the tutorial to check the link. I realized that I may have pulled my ponytail through the opposite way than the tutorial. I know where I messed up but I can't really explain it in words.  I was pulling the whole thing through starting with the base of the ponytail to the ends, instead of just pulling the ends through. Now are you really confused???

I hopped up from my computer, and just had to retry it with this new revelation. You'll have to excuse the day-old-slept-on-non-hairsprayed look in these photos.

I tried pulling from the ends instead of from the base and after only two attempts had this:
Much better start. After pinning up the ends and fluffing a little bit I ended up with a very rudimentary version of the original style.

Never mind all the sloppy flyaways--I had fixed the problem! I conquered the style! I can totally clean this up with some fresh hair, and a little practice. At first it felt really loose and that it would just fall out any minute, but after I started pinning up the ends to the base, it started to feel much more secure. I'm digging the look and it is a great alternative to the sock bun--not that I don't sport a sock bun on many a day. I do start to get a little self-conscious about that sock. . .

So the REAL final verdict: I can make this work! And it is much easier to conquer then that sock bun was.